Sleep problems are a concern commonly reported by parents and are frequently identified in-clinic in children with autism. Children with ASD are known to suffer from a variety of sleep problems including delayed sleep onset, night waking, early awakening, obstructive sleep apnea, sleep epilepsy and reduced need for sleep. Recent research indicates that these problems occur more often in children with autism and other developmental disorders than in children without developmental delays.
The ATN Sleep Committee has produced a draft algorithm for physicians and a Draft Guideline for Evaluation of Sleep Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The algorithm is focused mainly on managing insomnia and is intended to guide general pediatricians in carrying out the initial diagnostic and treatment steps and help them determine when to refer the family to a sleep specialist. ATN sites including Baylor College of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, Kaiser Northern California and University of Missouri are currently pilot testing the algorithm to assess its feasibility. Improvement in the children's sleep symptoms will be measured through patient data collected and entered into the ATN Registry.
To accompany the algorithm the ATN Sleep Committee is developing a sleep hygiene toolkit, which will assist physicians in screening sleep disorders and parents in managing their child's sleep behavior. This toolkit will include an ATN Sleep Strategies guide, which addresses sleep behavior in children under the age of 12, and a Sleep Log. A sleep strategies guide for adolescents with ASD is currently in the early testing stages as well.